Meta thoughts

Everybody that seems to have an opinion about Facebooks recent name change to Meta seems to have aired it by now.

So naturally, I thought it time to went my own two cents on the subject; why it changes nothing about the fundamentals, why it’s different from Googles renaming to Alphabet, why Mark Zuckerberg needs to succeed with the exercise and what bet he is making in order to make it happen.

First things first: Of course the rebranding from Facebook to Meta doesn’t change anything about the vast challenges that Facebook is facing.

On the contrary; the name change is a testament to the fact that one of the worlds leading brands in terms of market capitalization has become so toxic, it needs to be incinerated from public view.

It says a lot about CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his merry crew that they would rather throw their brand out than actually work to address and solve the myriad of issues affecting Facebook.

It’s will probably be the closest thing we ever get to Zuckerberg admitting guilt. Which of course he will never (see any reason to) do in the real world.

Second, the comparisons with Googles name change is some way off, IMHO. When Google changed into Alphabet it was basically for two reasons:

The original founders Sergey and Larry had pretty much lost interest in search and were looking to pursue other interests. And, more importantly, Google was doing so many different projects that had nothing to do with their core business that they probably needed an entire alphabet to keep track of them all.

Facebook – sorry, Meta – doesn’t have this. For all the existence of different apps, it’s still very much a social media company across software as well as hardware. Even though Mark Zuckerberg is dappling a bit on the side with other projects through foundations etc., it’s not like Meta is about to cure cancer.

Some would argue that Meta is much rather a collection of cancers than any kind of step towards a cure, but I digress.

No, there is a much more compelling reason for Zuckerberg to dip into the met averse in order to keep his collection of apps on a path of growth and prosperity:

The ownership of the operating systems and the platforms that come with them.

Facebook in its old form had grown way too dependent on other peoples OS’s and platforms being it Apple iOS, Google Android or whatever.

Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, because when you’re huge, you hold both sway and leverage within the ecosystem. But to Facebook it has been for the sheer reason that even though Facebook is huge, the OS owners are bigger and more powerful.

And – add to that – pretty pissed with how Facebook operates.

Example? Apples decision to limit apps ability to track users for advertising on iOS.

I could image Facebook has been the single biggest driver for the decision by Apple to roll that out. And on the other side, I could also imagine that that very move has been the biggest motivation for Mark Zuckerberg to go big on the metaverse and do the whole rebranding exercise to Meta right now.

He simply needs to build and own his own OS and be independent of the other OS owners.

So I think this is the light Meta and the bet on the metaverse should be seen; it’s Mark Zuckerberg big bet on creating a brand new form of operating system that he hopes will disrupt and replace and others, so he will be able to have to last laugh.

His biggest asset? The huge user base. If he can convert the users of the many Facebook apps into the univer…sorry, metaverse…he will have won.

Of course the biggest challenge that he will face in doing so, is the lousy history he has with many of the same users, who he through his failed stewardship of Facebook has failed time and time again.

Will they place their faith on more of the same, more immersed, potentially more powerful?

I seriously doubt it. But it’s pretty much the only big bet he can make.

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Getting inspired by others

How many times have you met a startup, which has claimed to be ‘Uber for X’, ‘AirBnb for Y’ or another version of something already in existence and hugely popular? Many times. And every time it has been cringeworthy.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all bad taking your cues from others, who have threaded the path before you and been successful at it. Far from it.

The difference is in how you do it.

You should NEVER do it in public. That’s the first lesson.

If you want to take inspiration and map your journey against someone who have done it before, do it in a war room of sorts; a place – physical or digital – where you can lay their playbook out, study it, plot your initiatives and try to follow their plan forward.

Pick the best, optimize it to your own reality so you get a feel for it and use it in your operations. By all means. If for no other reason because you have validation from those who have gone before you that the approach is effective.

Don’t talk about what you do. Just execute. Most people with even limited insight into the market will quickly spot the resemblance, but since your not being vocal about it, it will just seem like you have been inspired by the way others have done before you.

That’s happening all the time in the world of business, and it’s a perfectly cool way of executing your way to success.

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Who are you selling to?

Let me admit it straight from the bat: I have an overwhelming fondness for business models that addresses the users wallet directly.

Not in terms of forcing them to splash the cash but in terms of delivering products, services and experiences that solve meaningful problems and challenges to people, which they are both willing an able to pay for.

Having said that I of course also realize that there are product and services, it makes little or no sense to sell to others than enterprises or even public customers.

But there is another consideration I think is important to make, when you’re thinking about how to get your product or service to market:

Is your product or service one that grows bottom-up or one that will only get a decent chance, if it’s implemented top down?

Normally, we would probably think that products coming from below would have the greatest chance of being successful. I think this is true to the extend that the user experience is superior, and the product is solving a problem that is well recognized by all by at the very least being more efficient at it.

But what if the product or service requires a ‘leap of faith’ in order to be given a chance and get an opportunity to prove its real worth in delivering value to users?

Here, perhaps, it would often be better to go the entreprise route; find the internal champion of whatever problem or challenge your innovation is looking to address, making him/her see the light and how they could benefit from your product or service, and then let them buy it and roll out across the org.

The more new – and not in a consumer-friendly ‘shiny thing’ – kind of way a product is, the more I think you should bet on this enterprise approach. People can be unforgiving after one or two tries, and the corporate culture of moving slow but getting there in time might end up serving you well.

I guess, my overall point is this:

Look at your product or service and get crystal clear on the level of buy-in, it needs in order to be successful in a B2B context. The more buy-in it needs, the more patience you will need, and the more you should probably go the classic enterprise sales route.

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Map your GTM options

When I meet with young startups there is one thing that often springs to mind on the commercial side:

The tendency towards picking a business model on the shelf, often inspired by what others are doing, and settle on that as the model going forward without much further thought than that.

The reasoning seems to be that since others have chosen it (and some perhaps even succeeded with it) it will probably also be good enough for this startup. Plus you get the feeling that you have achieved something and can cross off a to do-item from your long list.

I think this approach is premature and may actually be damaging for the prospects of the startup in the long run.

Because what if the model doesn’t work? Do you just pick another then and repeat the same process? And what if the model, you have chosen, puts investors off because it’s too complex, hard and time consuming to succeed?

Forget about just picking a more or less random business model (I know, it’s not entirely random, but I am sure you get my point, ed.).

Map your go-to-market options out instead, as they relate very closely to a viable business model going forward.

Do a mind map. Put your end user/customer in the center. And then start mapping the various ways you can close a sale with that customer using different models, approaches and value propositions.

Figure out what needs to be true – the key assumptions – for each of the avenues and test the assumptions with customers, experts etc.

With a bit of luck and quite a lot of work you will be able to define the path of least resistance to the customer and notably to the customers wallet.

And that’s exactly what you need. That’s your future business model. Developed and understood by you, so you can effectively go and execute on it. Not something just taken from a shelf that you actually may have very little idea about how to make work for you and your startup.

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Manage your effort

OKRs are a super efficient way of setting short term objectives and define key initiatives to reach them. It is perhaps the most simple way of ensuring that your startup is at all times outcome-driven that you can get.

But there is one key element to setting your OKRs that you should keep in mind when setting them: The amount of effort that goes into the Key Results necessary to reach the objectives.

When you define your key results right, you instantly have a feel that they are ambitious yet achievable within the short term.

But sometimes you look at your key objectives and get the feeling that even if they are measurable they are still kind of fuzzy and essentially the tip of the iceberg with a lot of dependencies down under.

That’s where you should sound the alarm and ask whether it’s really a short term OKR goal or rather a more significant ongoing project that should be handled in a different way.

If you fail to do that, the risk is that you end up chasing a bunch of OKRs that are draining ressources from you above and beyond what’s reasonable in order to be efficient across the board. People will start feeling fatigued, get frustrated and basically abandon the OKRs – and perhaps even the method, if you’re really unlucky.

There is no reason to get to that point, so make sure that your OKRs are not only structured right but also takes an amount of effort that is ambitious but manageable in order to move your startup fast forward.

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Recruit by objective

Too many startups are still looking towards other startups and their org charts, when they recruit to expand their teams.

While there is of course something to be said about having someone on point to fill the various operational roles in the startup and ensure smooth operations, navigating by org chart is typically a pretty poor way of ensuring that you reach your overall objectives.

What you should be looking to do instead is to staff by objective;

Figure out what the key objectives for your startup is and ensure that you have the right people with the right skills and experience in place to make a success out of them. If that entails restructuring your team and who’s in it, maybe that’s a thought worth having.

When you try to recruit, figure out who you need to have in the team, and who would be nice to have. Recruit the must haves to form the core, and supplement these with contractors or freelancers, who can make an important contribution for a while until they are on to other projects.

That way you can get the best from both worlds, and you won’t get stuck being dragged along by an irrelevant org chart.

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Keep winning

When looking at B2B startups, it’s super easy to get impressed by a well-executed growth model that brings new customers in in droves. Of course it is; sales is an art and can be a super tricky one at that, so every time a startup succeeds in closing a deal, it’s reason to celebrate.

But what I personally like to celebrate more is their ability to keep their customers happy by ensuring a high retention and thus a super low churn.

That – to me – is the most powerful indicator of a startup delivering real value to customers by successfully solving a problem, the customer has.

When I meet with startups there are always convincing narratives about how to find and attract new customers and close the deal. But with startups who already have their first product in market, I often find that the story becomes slightly less convincing, when we talk about retention and churn.

Sometimes the story about retention becomes so weird or non-logical that I just assume that the startup in question has a real problem in that department, and they are more than reluctant to share that with me. That – in all honesty – is a huge flag.

Having to work hard on retaining your customers is hard work and honest work. Because even though you may have a great product, lots of other startups or big corporations are out to get your customers with everything from a slightly better product to one that is just a lot cheaper (and perhaps even loss making) than what you have to offer.

You need to have a plan for keeping retention high, and you need to execute on it like your life depended on it. To some extent it does; at least the prospects of your startup ever becoming a viable business.

You need to show that you understand what’s going on, and that you understand what you need to do to keep your customers engaged, happy and finding the best value in your product. And you need to always optimize that approach to ensure that your win didn’t only happen once, when you closed the deal, but that by keeping the customer, you essentially have what it takes to keep on winning.

When you have that, it’s truly worth celebrating.

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Bad market feedback

One of the hardest things for many startups is dealing with bad market feedback; the sense that what you have been trying to bring to the world just isn’t being that well received at all.

It is the flipside of doing market testing and validation. While obviously the right thing to do, we always go into a test in the hope that results will be good and support our hypothesis. Yet, many times it just won’t happen.

What to do then?

Obviously the answer is not not to do any testing. That’s just stupid; it won’t make the bad feedback go away – it will just present itself way later when you have put a lot more energy and ressources into a product that ultimately might be failing.

The answer of course is to (1) learn to deal with bad market feedback and (2) think about how you deal with particular feedback based on what it is that you’re testing.

The best way to deal with bad market feedback is to remember that the market and the customers are always right. If you get bad feedback it is a sign that something in what you’re doing is off; the wrong approach, the wrong customer segment, maybe even the wrong product.

You get the feedback, internalize it, redo and come back much stronger. And you understand and accept that there are no points for insisting you’re right and the market is wrong. None.

On the second point, you can grade how you do testing and work with bad market feedback. While it of course sucks to get very bad feedback for your product as such, getting bad market feedback for an outlier idea or approach is actually really, really valuable.

Let’s assume that you have been playing with an idea of getting a sub-set of your feature set earlier to market in order to start generating revenue. It’s not entirely ‘on strategy’ when you look at your vision, but you want to start generating revenue as soon as possible.

Should you do that? Or should you stay the original course?

Test it.

If you get bad market feedback from testing that outlier approach, you will have learned that (a) clearly your idea is not going to be a runaway hit and (b) maybe the opportunity you saw to get an early product out and essentially diversify is a bad one and will only take away focus and ressources from your main effort. If that is the case, you will be happy that the bad market feedback has helped you and your team dodge a future bullet.

So, in summary, bad market feedback can be extremely good and valuable feedback, as it can help you focus on what’s really important and utilize your ressources in the best possible way. So make sure you don’t get distracted on a personal level and take it in as a defeat that leaves you stuck in f***.

It’s not.

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